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Magic and Religion
Magic may be described as a kind of religion in which the ethical element is either subordinated or sacrificed to other and inferior elements.
Incantations are prayers, only that the main stress is laid on the mode of utterance rather than on the moral condition of the agent. Plants, drugs, etc., when burnt to appease the good spirits, and protect against evil ones, are to be compared with sacrifices, and especially with incense, which last obtains at the present time in many branches of the Christian Church. In the mythology of the Vedas it is hard, if not impossible, to distinguish between magical acts and sacrifices; in each case something is done with the view of propitiating higher beings.
The unethical means employed by magic correspond to the unethical view that is held of the beings trafficked with.
As the conception of these beings rises, animism passes through polytheism on to monotheism. At this last stage the one God believed in is just and holy, requiring on the part of all who have to do with Him moral qualifications, these above all else, these almost to the exclusion of all other qualifications. Magic has now given way to religion. Prayer and fellowship have taken the place of mere words and acts.
Special individuals are chosen on account of their superior knowledge of the formulae; methods of operation, etc., believed to prevail with the powers which it is sought to persuade this select body of men corresponds to the priests, which in the lower forms of religion are credited with extraordinary knowledge of Divine secrets, and with unusual influence over Deity Indeed, it is hard to say when exactly the magician resigns, and the priest enters upon office To some extent the conception and conduct which properly belong to magic, accompany religion in all its historical forms.
Magic has been made to consist especially in the art or compelling spirits or deities, or the Deity, to do the will of him who utters the needful words, or performs the requisite acts. In this it has been made to stand apart from religion. This, however, is not strictly correct, because, as already stated, all magic is a sort of religion; and certainly in most cases, the magician does not seek to use force in the exercise of his art : else what do we make of incantations and charms ?
In the lowest stages of culture the spirits communicated with are not separated into good and bad, just because the categories of good and bad have not risen into conscious thought, though implied in the very earliest thinking. Later on, traffic with evil spirits, particularly when the purpose was to injure others, was called Black Magic, or the Black Art. White Magic, the contrary term, stood for intercourse with well-disposed spirits.
In our own time, and amongst civilized peoples, White Magic means no more than the art of performing clever tricks with the hands, etc. Similarly the word conjure has, in modern English, the present meaning which White Magic has among ourselves, though originally it denotes exorcise. A conjurer well, children know who he is, perhaps even better than their soberer sires.
In a narrow, but later sense, magic has to do with feats of power and not of knowledge. For this reason the relation between magic and divination has been compared to that existing between miracles and prophecy. But it will be more fully shown later on that at the beginning, and at the present among backward races, this distinction is not drawn. Indeed, divination is hardly the right word to use for what is so called at this stage, since it is really magic applied to future events. The future is not so much foretold as constituted, or made, by the art of the magician.
The English word magic is, in our language, primarily a noun, but it represents an adjective in the classical tongue, the corresponding noun for art being understood, and sometimes expressed in Latin (Ars Magica).
Divination may be provisionally defined! As the attempt on man’s part to obtain from the spiritual world supernormal or superhuman knowledge. This knowledge relates for the most part to the future, but it may also have to do with things in the present, such as where some hidden treasure is to be found. Divination takes for granted the primitive belief that spiritual beings exist, are approachable by man, have means of knowledge which man has not, and are willing upon certain conditions known to diviners to communicate the special knowledge which they are believed to possess.
Necromancy is a part of divination and not a thing distinct in itself. Its peculiar mark is that the information desired is sought from the ghosts of deceased persons. Divination embraces all attempts to obtain secret knowledge from the denizens of the spiritual world, so that necromancy comes under it, and is a part of it. Indeed, the word itself denotes literally divination by consulting the dead.
All the beliefs which have been noticed take their rise in the primitive and instinctive impulse of human beings to interpret what they see outside of themselves in terms of their own personality. The earliest knowledge which man acquires is that of himself as a living, conscious, thinking being. In a vague way he may be said to perceive the outer world as reflected in his thought before he rises to the conception of himself as standing apart from it. But surely the first object he knows is himself.
This knowledge obtained, all other things are interpreted in its light, and just as coloured glass makes what is seen through it have the same colour as itself. As man, in the wildness of unrestrained imagination, looks forth upon rivers and stars, he pictures them as living just as he is living. Have they not many of the marks of life and personality? Trees and plants stand up and apart from their environment; they also appear to eat and drink, and they produce fruit and beget offspring. Stones resist all efforts to move or destroy them: they often seem to move of their own accord, injuring and even killing animals and men.
It would be too much to say that at this low level of thought the doctrine, of soul as distinct from body has been reached, but it very soon is reached.
In his growth to this higher thought, man is guided by his own experience. At a very early period, before there were words to suggest it, he must have come to feet that he is not the body: that, on the contrary, his truer soul controls the body. In other words, soul is differentiated from body. This twofold view of himself is almost unthinkingly applied to other things believed to be living.
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